What Is New Adult Fiction? All You Need To Know – Jericho Writers
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What Is New Adult Fiction? All You Need To Know

What Is New Adult Fiction? All You Need To Know

Despite having been branded as an ‘emerging’ market for the last ten years, new adult fiction remains shrouded in heated debate.

Whilst it has acquired cult status among readers and authors alike, there are a great many publishers who are reluctant to acknowledge it as an established category. The question is -why? 

To answer this question for you, I will define new adult fiction, include some examples, and suggest tips for writing it.

Most importantly, I will explain how you might want to tackle these controversies in your submissions. 

What Is New Adult Fiction?   

New adult fiction books (NA) are narratives that explore the transition from late adolescence to early adulthood. They’re considered the next step after young adult fiction and they’re typically aimed towards readers aged 18-25.

It’s less a genre and more a subcategory of either YA or adult fiction.

The protagonists in NA titles, much like their demographic, are new to “adulting” and don’t yet feel like functional adults.

The topics frequently explored in these stories are:  

  • Moving away from home for the first time 
  • Starting higher education 
  • Deeper exploration of sexual experiences, identity and gender 
  • Establishing careers 
  • Figuring out relationships – familial, platonic and romantic

NA helps maturing readers, who are new to adulthood, find their footing… at least this is what many believe it’s for. Naturally, there’s some speculation. 

The Controversy Of New Adult Fiction

When NA first came onto the scene in around 2009 – thanks to a competition run by St Martin Press – the response was essentially YA fiction but notched up a gear. This included the sexual content.

It wasn’t long until the new adult genre was characterised as thinly veiled erotica that took place at university. This in itself is no bad thing; people can read and write what they want. The hitch is that the refrain that NA titles are just YA romance novels with more sex still plagues the category today and this has made it hard to market and sensibly shelve in bookshops.

Deirdre Power, an assistant editor at Usborne, said ‘while there’s a really valid reason for children’s books to be divided into age categories, you can’t generally say the same for adult fiction.’ Once eighteen, readers are simply trusted to make their own decisions.

In fact, the popularity of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, featuring university aged characters, demonstrates that adult readers are not typically dissuaded from reading titles with younger protagonists.

They may be dissuaded, however, if a book’s marketed for a specific age range. This means positioning a book away from a mass of readers who would have otherwise bought it. This is why NA can be vague as a marketing ploy. After all, does anyone ever really feel like an adult?  

young-man-reading-how-to-write-new-adult-fiction

However, new adult books have not gone away, and the sexual content they sometimes contain is becoming less of a concern. Laura Bennett at the Liverpool Literary Agency said ‘in my experience, I’ve found that publishers are trying to be more sex positive. I think Tik Tok has a huge part to play in this.’ As a result, she’s found that publishers are increasingly asking for titles with “crossover potential” … which is essentially jargon for new adult.

Laura speculated that the perpetual grey area could be attributed to a wider issue with age ranges in the YA market. ‘YA has become such a huge bracket. Is it 12-18yr olds or is it 16-18yr olds? Children are always going to read older than they are. But equally, I wouldn’t want my 10yr old reading upper YA because it’s in the 12+ section’. If there was consistent delineation, it would help with marketing and shelving. ‘We have to nurture mature readers, while still protecting younger readers. There needs to be that balance. If you insert new adult into the opposite end of that scale, it gives us the opportunity to say “Yes, this is for older readers, but it is still fairly safe”’.

This begs the question though… what actually sets YA and NA apart? 

New Adult Vs Young Adult Fiction

Young adult fiction titles are books written for readers aged 13 – 18. With teenaged protagonists, they explore the challenges of adolescence or coming of age.

New Adult Fiction differs in 5 key areas:  

  • Target audience – NA’s target audience is both older and broader. It’s targeted at 18-25 year olds, though many believe it’s 18-30.  
  • Word count – Whereas YA is usually around 60,000 words, NA titles can be anything up to 120,000. NA authors can get into politics, themes and worldbuilding a lot more. 
  • Content – NA titles can provide more detail with their ‘adult’ content. This includes more swearing, violence, sex and drugs.  
  • Voice – NA protagonists have a different set of priorities and concerns than their younger counterparts. They’re older but not on an equal footing with adults that possess well-established careers, families, and lifestyles. 
  • Themes  – NA focuses on three areas of identity: romance, career and worldview. There are more mature themes with more complexity than in YA. YA often focuses on the external, whereas NA focuses on the internal. 

Examples Of New Adult Titles

  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas – After killing a faerie, 19-year-old Feyre is held hostage. This popular Beauty and the Beast adaptation is darker, sexier and grittier than YA. 
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – When identical twins Cath and Wren head to college, they must each find their place, dealing with independence and social anxiety.
  • Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour – 22-year-old Darren ditches his job as a barista and becomes a salesman who’ll do anything to get ahead. This explores the challenges of racism in the workforce, establishing a first career and balancing life. 
  • The Incendiaries by R O Kwon – Will starts at Edwards College and turns his back on religion, then he and his friend get involved with a cult. This explores worldview, grief and self-identity. 
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan – 22-year-old Ava moves to Hong Kong and strikes a relationship with British banker Julian. Things get complicated, however, when she meets Edith.
  • If We Were Villains by M L Rio – Seven young actors study Shakespeare at an elite college, until one of them is found dead. This is a dark ‘campus novel’ exploring morality and social identity.
young-woman-reading-new-adult-fiction

Tips For Writing New Adult Fiction

Audience

The biggest mistake NA authors make is oversimplifying things by writing too young for an adult audience and too graphically for YA.

Be clear about who you’re writing for and ensure your protagonist embodies this in both mindset and maturity – the rest will fall into place.  

Themes

The circumstances of your story should sync with your character. Your themes need to feel reflective of where they are in life. 

Genre

Given publishers’ hesitancy acknowledging the term ‘new adult’ you may want to consider using other buzz words in your query letter.

I’d recommend using the phrase ‘XX with crossover appeal’. If the setting’s firmly academic, then you may want to label your title as a ‘campus novel’. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Difference Between New Adult And Adult Fiction?

The new adult category is considered a subsection of adult fiction. New adult readers are typically aged 18-25 and adult fiction is aimed at anyone over the age of 18. 

What Is The Difference Between Young Adult And New Adult Fiction? 

YA fiction titles are written for young adults/readers aged 13 – 18, with similarly aged protagonists, and they explore the challenges of coming of age. New adult titles are aimed at 18–25-year-olds, and have older protagonists facing the new demands of legal agency and responsibility. 

Writing NA Fiction

The increase in ‘crossover appeal’ on editors’ wish lists speaks for itself. New adult is far more than sexy romance.

It’s a robust category that offers authors the chance to tackle important topics that are pertinent to early adulthood.

Not unlike the readers these books aim to represent, the NA market is in a period of transition.

The question of when it can go from ‘emerging’ to ‘emerged’, feels almost synonymous with, ‘when do humans go from ‘adulting’ to fully-grown adult?’

The fact is, no one knows, but it seems somewhat inevitable. 


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